There are some shows so freakin’ awesome that you await their new seasons with anxious anticipation. Showtime’s Nurse Jackie is one of those shows. Though I am usually getting ready to go to sleep around the time that Nurse Jackie comes on, I was too excited for the third season premiere last night, “Game On,” to slumber without watching it. Am I glad I did! The episode did justice to the high expectations I hold for the show as it kicked off a whole new season.
It’s hard to think of other half-hour shows that pack as much into their limited time as Nurse Jackie does. In the premiere, besides Jackie’s (Edie Falco) personal drama with her husband and best friend, who each get their own scenes, there are two patients, new shoes, Zoey (Merritt Wever) glowing from post-coital bliss, and a series of de-facings done to a simple sign that had me rolling in laughter. I think the poster may have been my favorite part, just because it was so random and unexpected. What starts as a warning to not kiss the statues in the chapel because they may have lead paint, ends up being a caution not to feed Nurse Thor (Stephen Wallem). Hehe.
As for Zoey, I’m glad she got laid, but I share her co-workers’ revulsion at her trying to slip in details. No one needs to know. It’s a private act. Zoey has boundary issues, and she always has had them. It’s perfectly in character. You forgive her, though, because Wever exudes innocence and sweetness in the role.
In fact, it’s the little, funny bits like that that make Nurse Jackie one of my favorite shows. The aformentioned sign is posted by Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith), probably my favorite character. Akalitus got several noteworthy moments in the premiere. Besides the signs, and telling all the nurses they had better be on their game, because they could easily be replaced with nurses recently let go from shut down hospitals, she also masters the art of facial expressions. Let me explain.
Jackie talks to Akalitus, concerned that Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best) will tattle on her about her pill problem. Jackie makes it seem like it isn’t really a problem, but a misunderstanding. O’Hara does come in to speak with Akalitus, immediately following Jackie’s meeting, but dances around the issue, rather than ratting Jackie out. Akalitus is stone faced for much of both meetings, but you can see the gears turning in her head. She is taking it all in, and she will act when necessary. She values her employees, but also has the hospital to worry about. Adding comedy to what otherwise would have been a tense scene, the phone keeps ringing, and Akalitus gets increasingly frustrated with it, rather than with the women in her office. Smith handles it all brilliantly, both the broad and the subtle equally, with massive talent.
At the beginning of the episode, Jackie tries to explain away the pharmacy charges to her husband, Kevin (Dominic Fumusa). He doesn’t buy her excuses, which ring hollow when the secret post office box Jackie gets her credit card bills in is taken into account, and storms off in anger. Is there any hope of rebuilding trust in their marriage? I don’t know. I assume they will be staying together, at least for the time being, but I can’t see them having easy fun ahead. She fundamentally betrayed him, on a deep level. There is nothing she can say to make things right, because what she has done is so wrong.
Kevin seems concerned about something besides the pills, too. He knows Jackie doesn’t think he makes enough money, as she is willing to accept funds from O’Hara for their children’s tuition, and that hurts his pride. So he has the school fees put on various credit cards, and still can only manage a half payment. Kevin’s pride is a huge obstacle that will also need to be overcome for the couple to reconnect. He needs to accept that he can’t do everything alone, and that sometimes it is all right to accept help. While his flaws are not as serious as Jackie’s he does have them.
Jackie handles things with O’Hara, her best friend, completely differently. She wants O’Hara to forgive her, as evidenced by her moving closer in the chapel, but doesn’t offer excuses. She knows she doesn’t stand a chance at fooling O’Hara, a smart surgeon, as opposed to her husband, a dumb bartender, who didn’t even believe Jackie. O’Hara shows no signs of even wanting to make up with her friend, so I wonder how much groveling it will take Jackie to get back in her good graces. If she ever can. It’s really sad, because the two of them have such magical chemistry together.
The biggest development in the episode is that Kevin shows up at the hospital. No one, except O’Hara and Eddie (Paul Schulze), Jackie’s former lover, even know that she is married, and so Zoey’s first introduction goes a little awkwardly. She asks for Kevin’s ID. Her face falling as she realizes Jackie is indeed married and Zoey just made a fool of herself, is priceless. Kevin’s visit is brief, but it will have lasting effects, as suddenly Jackie is exposed in one huge secret, bordering on a lie, to the staff. What this will do to her relationships with various co-workers, especially Zoey, who will be hurt that Jackie never shared something so big, is hard to tell.
The ensemble dramedy also stars Peter Facinelli (Twilight) as Cooper, a stuck up doctor who just bought new, fancy shoes that he wears to work and worries about scuffing, and Arjun Gupta as Sam, a nurse who Jackie has blackmail on, both wonderful elements in the cast. Nurse Jackie airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.